“I can trace my Wargaming origins, as I suspect many of my generation can, back to the days of plastic toy soldiers and cannons that could fire matchsticks being sprawled out in full battle array across the living room floor. The days when Confederates and Germans (both being grey) took to the field against anything in green!”
So begins Brian Carrick in his article on “Big Wars: Nostalgic Wargaming”. He then went on to summarise H. G. Wells’ Little Wars rules, useful at a time when reprints were hard to come by and then outline the current erratic state of figure availability.
I was intrigued by photos of Brian Carrick’s village of Airfix Jungle Houses, Britain’s Deetail British Infantry Attack Boats and a scratch built gunboat with Britain’s Lifeboat sailors.
I found this article in the Battle for Wargamers Military Modelling Extra Wargames Manual really inspiring at the time it came out (1983) as I had not come across any serious adult gamers who used 54mm figures or the garden.
Gunboat envy and ‘whole village of Airfix jungle houses’ envy ensued.
Donald Featherstone’s Skirmish Wargaming, borrowed from the local branch library, was too much of a mathematical rules puzzle of charts to me but I loved the illustrations, scenarios and photographs. They featured Airfix and other plastic figures that I had. I could one day sort of be like these giant gamers and gaming authors.
Little did I realise at the time that one day 35 years later that I would be chatting on blog comment sections about garden games with the article author Brian Carrick through his fabulous Collecting Plastic Soldiers blog and the 54mm forum Little Wars Revisited.
Brian’s blog Collecting Toy Soldiers is at http://toysoldiercollecting.blogspot.co.uk
Blog? Websites? Internet? Surprisingly this 1983 Wargames Manual did mention the word “Computer” on the cover and listed “machine gaming” amongst the articles.
For me then, (war) gaming in many books and magazines was unattainable, glossy, expensive and for grownup wallets, a far cry from playing with the bashed-up Airfix at my disposal. A lot like the eye-candy front cover of this interesting manual / magazine extra.
Today there are a good range of 54mm plastic figures in many historical periods and still affordable buckets of Green Army Men. Despite the disappearing number of toy shops, there are in pound stores or online lots of ‘pirate’ or pound store figures (soldiers, cowboys, Indians, knights etc) at entry level cost for youngsters.
An impressive author’s list for this 1983 special edition edited by Stuart Asquith:
At least there was a free Cut out Saxon Army – too precious to cut out at the time – and one lacking any opposition without buying more card warriors from Standard Games (a range now vanished?) One day I will scan and make these Saxons. Paper soldiers have returned recently with Peter Dennis and Andy Callan’s attractive colourful card soldier series for Helion books.
Inside were tempting adverts, the lure of grown up metal. I had already made my first forays into Peter Laing 15mm figures, a few English Civil War figures with my pocket money each month. I went for a historical range that Airfix sadly did not do. Peter Laing kindly did not mind such small orders but I later bundled up several months pocket money worth of orders to save postage.
Unattainable in price at the time were the home cast Prince August Moulds – “send £3.95 … for an 8 days trial …” These had to wait another 30 plus years until I stumbled over them again in a craft shop. Their range of “mould your own 54mm traditional toy soldiers” that I eventually fell for was not yet mentioned here.
A fan of the Fighting Fantasy books from the library (“to take the left hand door to uncertain death, turn to page 37”), there was also the lure of Dungeons and Dragons. I was bought a D and D boxed set which I never understood. Interesting to see the introduction to Fantasy Wargaming article by a young John Treadaway, now Editor of Miniature Wargames.
This is a lifelong hobby, or one that you can return to throughout life. Although I have still to obtain the desirable games room and hex table shown here:
Here to conclude is the whole article by Brian Carrick, reprinted with his permission:
Brian’s comments on erratic or faltering plastic 54mm figure availability were sadly true for many years until quite recently. “The decline of Airfix … the demise of Timpo … Britain’s once famous range of guns now badly depleted.”
As Brian Carrick concludes his article, Big Wars:
“… I should point out that there will be as many differing views as to the value of such games and how they should be played as there are 54mm gamers. I imagine this is largely because there is no representational body that I know of to develop this section of the hobby by the exchange of participants’ views.
I hope that this article will have provided the spark to kindle some interest in potential recruits to the ranks of 54mm Wargamers and perhaps provoke some comment from existing enthusiasts who, in the past, have had little voice in the hobby media.”
Big Wars PostScript:
When I contacted Brian to ask if he was happy for me to reprint his photos and article, he replied: “Gosh is it really 35 years since I wrote that! the pics weren’t very good I’m afraid …” but they made a big difference to a young gamer like me. They stopped me throwing out many of my childhood 54mm figures and chasing proper small scale shiny fashionable metal as I got older, even when I stopped gaming for a few years (college, first jobs etc – usual story).
Thanks Brian for all you have done for 54mm gaming for many years past and for many years to come.
Blogposted with gratitude and reprinted with permission by Mark, Man of TIN, June 30 2017